Seven Trails to Damascus, VA

Seven Trails to Damascus, VA

From Damascus, Syria, to Damascus, VA For nearly ten thousand years, the ancient city of Damascus has flourished in southwestern Syria. Sitting at the crossroads of trade routes between Africa and Asia, the city has always been a hub for craftsmanship and culture. Like its namesake city, Damascus, Virginia, sits at the intersection of former trade routes and serves as […]

Tobacco Bag Stringing: Craft, Culture, and Survival

Tobacco Bag Stringing: Craft, Culture, and Survival

Amid the harsh economic strains of the Great Depression, the unassuming craft of tobacco bag stringing emerged as a lifeline for many Blue Ridge families. This craft involved the simple—but tedious—task of threading drawstrings into tobacco bags. These bags held more than tobacco; they promised survival and a speck of prosperity for those who stitched their way through hard times. […]

The Melungeons: Lost Tribes, Hidden Heritage

The Melungeons: Lost Tribes, Hidden Heritage

Legend has it that in 1654, a group of weary English explorers stumbled upon a sight that defied explanation: a village nestled among the ancient oaks, its log cabins revealing arched windows, yards boasting fenced gardens punctuated by outbuildings. They were shocked: There should not have been any European settlements this far west. Who were these people? Where were the […]

Whispers Along the New River Trail

Whispers Along the New River Trail

Stepping onto the New River Trail today, I can’t help but feel like I’m walking through layers of time, each step tracing the echoes of a bygone era transformed into the present’s treasure. My curiosity sparks as I pass by the N&W Railroad caboose at the southern (Galax) trailhead. On my right, Chestnut Creek is running high and fast on […]

John Chiswell Climbed into a Hole and Became a Legend

John Chiswell Climbed into a Hole and Became a Legend

Along a freeway passage where traffic travels north on I-81 while simultaneously going south on I-77 lies the exit for Ft. Chiswell, VA. One might expect to find some semblance of a colonial fort there, considering that Virginia is a state rich in historical sites. But there isn’t one. Instead, this crossroads hides its frontier past under a cloak of […]

The Enigma of the Brown Mountain Lights

The Enigma of the Brown Mountain Lights

Gazing upon the star-laden sky on a clear night, one expects tranquility. But an anomaly disrupts the sky’s serenity in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Eerie lights dance on the peak of Brown Mountain, captivating and confounding observers. Their origin is a beguiling mystery that continues to baffle scientists and folklore enthusiasts alike. Some stories claim the […]

The American Chestnut: Fall and Salvation

The American Chestnut: Fall and Salvation

When European settlers came to the Blue Ridge Mountains, one of every four trees in the forest was an American Chestnut. This giant stood tall amidst the lush greenery of the Blue Ridge, its wood and sweet nuts a boon for both wildlife and humans. From mice, squirrels, turkey, deer, and bears to people and livestock, the bountiful yields of […]

Appalachian Stump Houses: Rooted in History

Appalachian Stump Houses: Rooted in History

Picture the towering forests of old-growth Appalachia, sunlight dappling through a canopy of ancient trees. Imagine a different kind of home nestled among these giants. Forget the familiar image of the log cabin. Here, amidst the roots and fallen leaves, rise simple dwellings built not from felled trees but from the massive stumps they left behind. These were the Appalachian […]

The Curious Tale of the Saluda River Petrified Man

The Curious Tale of the Saluda River Petrified Man

The tale of the Saluda River Petrified Man is steeped in the superstitions and faux-science of the late 19th century. This extraordinary story emerges from South Carolina, where an alleged petrified body was discovered and displayed. The Saluda River forms in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. It flows southward into southwestern South Carolina (“Upstate”), passing through Saluda, NC, […]

Al Capone and the Little Chicago of the Blue Ridge

Al Capone and the Little Chicago of the Blue Ridge

Al Capone, the infamous American gangster of the 1920s, is widely known for his involvement in Chicago’s organized crime and bootlegging during Prohibition. What’s rarely discussed is that his liquor distribution network spread far beyond his base in Chicago: It went well into the mountains of Tennessee, Virginia, Kentucky, and Georgia. South of Chicago, his criminal activities centered in Johnson […]

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